Lesson from March 29th, 2009
The story of the church in Phillipi begins in the book of acts in the early 50s A.D. In Acts 16 we learn of Paul taking Timothy with him on Missionary journey. Paul has a vision of a man from Macedon (Modern day Greece) who begs him to come to help the people there. We learn in Acts that Phillipi was a Roman colony and a leading city in the area. It is a miniature Rome, in fact, with many former military men living there. It was a place where many dressed like Romans and where Latin was commonly spoken. It was a relatively wealthy town, with Gold and Silver mines nearby, which also relates to how the city got its name. It was named after Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who conquered the city in 356 B.C.
There is a “worshipper of God” there; Lydia who had a successful business dealing in purple cloth. She responded to the gospel, she and her family were baptized, and Paul and Timothy stayed in her home. Later in that city, Paul exorcises a demon from a young girl, but when her “owners” discovered this they are upset because their livelihood is lost. Paul and Silas are beaten and put in jail, then released when another miracle occurs (an earthquake that frightens the jailer). The jailer is saved and brings his family to hear the gospel and they are saved as well. Paul and Silas are released from the town when the leaders there realize they have imprisoned Roman citizens.
As we did in the passage we examined in Colossians last week, we can derive a good deal of information about the believers at Phillipi from this passage. For example, they had proven themselves in the work of the ministry, at least in Paul’s eyes, as partners in grace, in the work of the gospel, in suffering, and with Christ. They were a group of believers for whom Paul had great affection. Paul’s prayer for them is the prayer one offers for those at least somewhat mature in the faith. The prayer also demonstrates Paul’s deep love for the believers there (v. 7-8). That section builds to v. 8 where Paul says, literally, “I yearn for you with the bowels of Christ.” This is an odd phrase to our ears, but when we realize that the splagxnois (upper intestines, heart, lungs, and liver) were considered the seat of the emotions, this makes more sense.
1. In the opening to the letter, Paul refers to the believers as “saints.” The word, in its most basic sense, refers to something that has been set apart for a special purpose, in this case, for a holy purpose. This is just one of many places where this term is used of believers. Discuss this term with the following three questions: Do you believe most Christians in America today view themselves as “saints?” What are the advantages for the person and the Kingdom of God for doing so? Can you think of ways in which this term has been used to negative effect by both those inside the church as well as those outside of it?
2. The last section, verses 9-11, is a prayer for full maturity for the believers. Do you think some believers struggle to desire this maturity? For example, St. Augustine famously said he had prayed, “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” If a person today found themselves feeling like that and avoiding maturing in the faith, what can they do if anything to overcome this?